Within SG&AT we have had some lively discussions about the recent Nuffield FJO report exploring the contribution of supervision and special guardianship orders. Whilst we are very excited by this innovative research project by Professor Harwin et al, at the same time we have some concerns that would like to share, which have emerged from our discussions – as experts by experience.

Whilst we recognise that a strong advisory board has informed the study, SG&AT would like to know whether:

  1. It would have been helpful to consult firstly with parent and caregiver stakeholders.
  2. Included parent and caregiver stakeholders on the Advisory Board; research capturing the concerns of parents and families.

At SG&AT we believe that researchers should be remindful that caring for children who have a history of abuse and neglect (97% in the birth family sample), is far from easy. As we see it, the support that is provided to assist parents and care givers with this difficult task, could perhaps be usefully investigated as a confounding variable in future research. Without the right help for parents and care givers, children are far more likely to end up back in the care system, and there have been concerns raised by Professor Lauren Devine to parliament about a conflation that is currently happening between Child in Need and S47 investigations, which was never the intention of the 1989 Children Act.

Faced with the prospect of further removal of a child, parents are likely to be compliant, but this compliance alone in the absence of any kind of trusting or empathetic supportive relationship being built, is not sufficient to enable any parent or care giver to take on the daunting task of helping a traumatised infant or child to heal.  At SG&AT we believe that this trusting supportive relationship is especially important when parents and caregivers continue to be monitored by professionals who often have no lived experience of parenting or caring for a traumatised infant, child or young person. Furthermore, it is difficult to ascertain the types of challenges faced by parents and caregivers in dealing with professionals and agencies to obtain support. Ultimately, this may result in parent and carer reluctance to engage with professionals.

SG&AT found it particularly interesting that the study found that some professionals viewed the supervision order as a “half-way house that takes nobody anywhere” yet concluded that it needed to be strengthened.

One of the questions that came out of SG&AT’s lively discussion about the report was: What would strengthen a supervision order for parents and care givers, compared to professionals?

The study identified that the views of special guardians differed markedly from professionals. Professionals felt the supervision order ‘lacked teeth’, whilst special guardians found care proceedings distressing and were more concerned with the level of support and with managing difficult contact with birth parents. It was clear from the research that special guardians typically feel let down by the family courts and by the lack of support they receive. Without a supervision order, whilst they might feel abandoned, does the supervision order actually provide parents and care givers with the support they feel is needed?

The research team has usefully highlighted disparities with the adoption process and becoming a special guardian. SG&AT are hopeful that serious consideration will be given as to how the journey into special guardianship can be improved as a result of this important research.

Moving forwards, SG&AT hope that within the ‘next steps’ of the research process there are opportunities for the all of our voices to be represented and heard. It is eighteen months since SG&AT started bringing the perspectives of birth family and other special guardians together with adopters, and we very much hope our group can be a useful resource to researchers, including Professor Harwin and her team at the Nuffield FJO, in future.